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Testify - Elaine Greer

Submitted by RamonLP4 on June 21, 2011 – 9:50 amOne Comment
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Elaine Greer (center) with her band (Photo by Frankie Marin)

Elaine Greeris a name that many people in Houston remember fondly.  Greer, made a name for herself as a powerful singer songwriter in Houston, releasing many low-fi CDRs before heading off to Austin a few years back.  Before she her departure, she decided it was time to move up a bit and enter the studio.  The resulting EP, Making Plans and Going Places, far exceeded anyone’s expectation.  Greer took advantage of the larger palatte  offered by the studio and dramatically expanded her sound in a way that never overshadowed her rich voice and intelligent songcraft.  Now, Greer (who also plays with Austin’s Sour Notes) returns to her hometown to celebrate the release of her second studio release, Annotations.  We caught up with Greer recently as she prepared for the album’s release.

FPH - It’s been a while since you moved to Austin. Why the move? How has that change of city worked for you? How has that city changed your approach to music and song craft?

Greer - I had several initial reasons for moving. I’d lived in Houston for my entire life, and I knew that I didn’t want to stay there forever. There were many personal reasons involved in the move as well. At first it was a bit rough being in a new city, however, I now couldn’t be happier with the decision. I feel like music in Houston has changed a lot from what it was back when I was active there. I’m just starting to really get involved with things here in Austin; it’s a bit harder to tap into, but now I’m seeing that there are actually lots of opportunities, bands to play with, and audiences to reach. I don’t think living in Austin has changed my approach to music too much, except that I am exposed to a lot of different styles and genres all the time…I think in the last album I definitely branched out as far as experimenting with different sounds and structures.

FPH - How do you see Houston and Austin’s scenes now that you’ve experienced both?

Greer - Well, there are the obvious differences between the two, like how Houston’s scene is smaller with less bands and less people. That’s one of the awesome things about Houston. In Austin, there are so many bands that there’s no possible way to know them all! But, it also means more bands to play with, who probably have a different group of people coming to their shows. It’s harder to overplay in Austin because there are so many niches. I think for where I’m at now, Austin is a good place to be, but a few years ago I wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere other than Houston.

FPH - You joined the Sour Notes when you moved. How did you join? How has that affected you as a player, performer,and songwriter?

Greer - I knew Jared (singer/songwriter of The Sour Notes) before moving to Austin; one day I ran into him and he asked me to sing on one of their albums. One thing led to another: he asked if I’d want to go on tour with them, and I said yes. I’d never been on tour before! I was in the band for a while, quit for about a year, and am playing with them again now. I don’t think it’s changed me much as a songwriter- I am a very private songwriter, and my songs are very different from Sour Notes songs. Performance wise the two bands always have completely different vibes. It has helped as a player in several ways though; I feel that having to play different styles that I wouldn’t usually play has helped to expand my musical horizons. Also, between the two bands, I am playing pretty much every day which keeps me on my toes. And now Jared is playing in my band too!

FPH - This is your follow-up to your EP. How was the recoding and writing of this different from your last EP?

Greer - At the time when I recorded the EP, I was playing with a steady band line up and that affected the song arrangements quite a bit. We went in and started the recording as a band, beginning with drums, and layering from there. The more recent album was approached in a much more solitary way. I had no band at the time that I started it, and wasn’t even sure what songs would end up on the album. I recorded with Steve Christensen, beginning in his apartment (“The Treehouse”). We recorded guitar and vocals before everything else. Next we had Ryan Odom come in and play drums. With these tracks, I recorded keyboard, harmonies, etc. Bass came in later. It was a slow layering process, starting from the stripped down song. Drawing it out helped, however, because it gave me more time to ponder the arrangements and know how I wanted things to be.

FPH - I saw on your site that you originally expected to release this back in February. What happened?

Greer - Hmm….Life happened I suppose! Things took way longer than expected on all fronts. I also wanted to wait for the right time to have a release; I wanted to wait until I felt like I had some momentum behind me. I’m glad I waited, because now we’re touring to support the album and I feel like I’m in a better place to really push it.

FPH - Are you working with a label or will it be self released?

Greer - Self-released. I’m going to start working on a new album in August when we return from tour, so maybe I can finally release that one on a label! Just maybe…

FPH - You’re doing a pretty mileage heavy tour for this album. Is this your first tour? Will you be playing solo or will you be performing with a backing band?

Greer - This will be my second tour, but my first tour with my own project. Since we’re going with The Sour Notes, I will be playing twice every night (yikes!). I think it’ll be a lot of work but also really fun. We wanted to cover as much ground as possible over a short period of time, since there will be 8 of us and that’s a lot of work schedules to juggle. I’m bringing the band with me!

FPH - Are you excited about the tour? Has playing with the Sour Notes changed how you approach your solo performances or the stage in general?

Greer - Of course I’m super excited. I think we have a lot of promising shows lined up. From here on out I want to go on tour a lot more; I’ve finally found a band line up who are into the idea of touring. I don’t think playing with The Sour Notes has changed my performances much; the 2 kinds of performances are completely different experiences. It is the experience of being on stage as a player vs. being on stage as an artist/songwriter. One is way more personal and intimate. Jared and I kind of switch places for the 2 different bands; when I play with The Sour Notes I try to play what’s best for the song or do what his vision is. My own songs mean something personal to me, so performing them onstage is more intense. Also my music is quieter with a more lyrical focus, while The Sour Notes music is louder and more rockin’.

FPH - It’s been a long time since I interviewed you. I think maybe you were just kind of getting recognition in Houston at that time. How have you changed in these years as an artists and what artists over these years have affected that change?

Greer - Well, I guess my approach to things has changed a bit as I’ve gotten older. When I first started playing, I was really young and therefore didn’t have much direction, it was just trial and error to see what worked and what didn’t. I guess it’s still a bit like that, but I feel like I’m getting more of a grasp on what I want to do and what my strong suits are. I think it’s a constant growing process and I still have a long ways to go! As far as artists that affected the change…I’ve always listened to a ton of female led bands and songwriters. While I was working on “Annotations”, I was really into Camera Obscura, Still Corners and other kind of dreamy sounding stuff. I now play electric guitar at most shows instead of acoustic and am more open to effects where as I used to try to keep things super organic. I’m also starting to focus way more on lyrics; trying to keep subject matter cohesive instead of jumping all over the place!

FPH - Explain the crossroads of Broadway and Punk Rock for us.

Greer - Ha! Well, my dad listened to a lot of show tunes so I was exposed to it a lot growing up. I knew all the words to Grease and Rent and Phantom of the Opera. I still love that stuff. When I first started getting really into music I was into punk rock; I had pink hair and went to shows and crowd-surfed! I learned how to play guitar playing power chords and trying to start punk rock bands will all of my middle school friends but that didn’t work out incredibly well. I think I was drawn to it because it felt free and passionate.

FPH - A few songwriting questions. When you are working on new songs, how much does the particular instrument you are playing or imagining affect the song? How do you know a song is done? How do you know the song is a dead end? Do you ever find yourself second guessing yourself and, if so, why? What do you think is the mark of a good songwriter?

Greer - Hmm, this is a tough question, because I approach songwriting in several different ways. Sometimes I’ll start on a certain instrument, have a melody or change that I like, and lyrics come later…sometimes I have a lyrical idea and have to find the right instrument home for it. It really depends. I write a lot on piano, but have for some reason not incorporated those songs into the live shows yet…I want to do so in the future. On several occasions I’ve started writing a song on piano and then decided to play it on guitar instead for convenience purposes. I’m really bad at finishing songs; it’s something I just have to kind of force myself to do, because I never feel like I’ve found the most perfect ending or bridge or outro or words. I change songs constantly, sometimes completely rearranging them a year later. As far as dead end songs, I’ve had more than I could ever remember that never made it to the later stages. If I’m bored with the song, I can be quite certain that everyone else will be (I think at least). I think everyone second guesses themselves at times and of course I do! Sometimes I’ll really like something and have to wonder if it’s completely stupid or sounds terrible but at this point I figure it’s better to throw it out there and see how it goes. I think the mark of a good songwriter is being able to write something that resonates with someone for some reason or another, be it in progression or instrumentation or arrangement or lyrics or even the way it’s executed.

FPH - What do you think is that one thing that makes a song strike a chord with a listener and why is it songs have that affect on people?

Greer - I think people are always trying to find something to relate to or something that moves them away from everyday monotony. As humans I think we often want to feel that we aren’t alone in things we are feeling or going through. Different songs will probably strike chords with different listeners since we all have different experiences and things that are important to us, but in the end that are the central common themes that are repeated over and over again in songwriting because nearly everyone can relate. It’s a magical thing really.

http://www.vimeo.com/24947009

Elaine Greer performs Friday June 24 at Fitzgerald’s downstairs with Hearts of Animals and Trio Musette (a new Geoffrey Muller project!) 8$, 8 PM, All Ages

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